Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

October 29, 2018

Middle East studies scholars are objecting to a panel event the State University of New York is cosponsoring this Friday with Turkey’s Council of Higher Education, a supervisory body that goes by the Turkish acronym YÖK.

A letter from the Middle East Studies Association’s Committee on Academic Freedom argues that SUNY should not lend legitimacy to YÖK, which it says has been complicit in the dismissal of thousands of Turkish university personnel since a coup attempt in 2016. The Turkish government has justified the mass dismissals based on alleged connections to terrorist organizations, but human rights and academic freedom monitoring groups say the evidence of such ties is often unclear or undisclosed and that many higher education personnel are being persecuted for their political views.

“Given YÖK’s complicity in the purging of Turkish faculty and academic staff on purely political grounds, we do not believe that SUNY or any of its components should collaborate with it or treat it as a legitimate academic entity,” the letter sent to the SUNY system chancellor states.

The panel event scheduled for Friday bears the title “Searching for the Future, Preservation of the Academic Heritage in the Middle East” -- a title that the MESA letter describes as “the height of hypocrisy.” In a written response SUNY said it is “strongly considering the serious concerns raised by MESA.”

October 29, 2018

A research professor of fisheries at the University of Georgia is retiring as he is accused of profiting from the sale of caviar harvested from campus-owned sturgeon, the Athens Banner-Herald reported. The university reportedly sells caviar from its Siberian sturgeon, and the professor, Douglas Peterson, allegedly added a consulting fee to each sale. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which is investigating Peterson, also says that he used a university boat at the Florida vacation home he shared with his wife, another Georgia professor.

Peterson said that the situation was a misunderstanding that he’d already resolved with the university, and that he always believed what he did was “acceptable,” since Georgia received a fair price for the caviar, according to the Banner-Herald. Court documents show that Peterson had previously been warned by the university that a profit-sharing agreement was not acceptable, since Georgia assumed all overhead costs for its sustainable caviar production model and Peterson had been a salaried employee since the project’s inception. No arrests have been made.

October 29, 2018

Word leaked a week ago that the Trump administration is considering a plan to remove the legal status of transgender people, effectively eliminating federal protection for people based on their gender identities. College policies on transgender students and employees vary widely, but several presidents of institutions that have pledged in the past to ban discrimination against transgender people have in the last week affirmed those commitments.

Among those issuing statement have been Eric Barron, president of Pennsylvania State University; Philip DiStefano, chancellor of the University of Colorado at Boulder; Miriam E. Nelson, president of Hampshire College; and Michael S. Roth, president of Wesleyan University. Wrote Roth: "At Wesleyan we will fight back against any attempt to erase transgender people. We will stand by our transgender friends and colleagues, we will recognize them, acknowledge their struggles, and join with them to fight for equality. The stakes are high for all of us."

October 29, 2018

Babson College, which stands to earn more than $50 million for its partnership helping establish a new college in Saudi Arabia, is re-examining its Saudi ties following the killing of the dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in a Saudi consulate in Turkey, The Boston Globe reported.

Babson’s president, Kerry Healey, said the college is “greatly concerned” by Khashoggi’s death and that the Board of Directors for the college and for its wholly owned subsidiary, Babson Global, are evaluating the situation. “Both have been meeting with their memberships and the administration to thoughtfully assess information and input we have gathered as this matter continues to develop,” Healey wrote in a letter to faculty and staff. “These deliberations are ongoing and focused on ensuring the college’s activities and affiliations remain aligned with our core values and global educational objectives."

Financial disclosure documents show that Babson expected to receive $52.2 million over 10 years starting in 2014 for a partnership to help establish the Prince Mohammad Bin Salman College, named for the Saudi crown prince. Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, each of which have received more than $20 million in donations from Saudi Arabia since 2005, have also said they are reviewing their Saudi ties in the wake of Khashoggi's killing.

October 29, 2018

Two shootings, a brawl, a stabbing and a drug raid have occurred on campus at East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania in the past year. The incidents have all been a result of a rivalry between two groups selling marijuana in the area, named the Neighborhood Boys and the Philly Boys, Lehigh Valley Live reported.

In October of last year, members of the Neighborhood Boys shot at members of the Philly Boys during a daytime drinking event, and 10 days later the Neighborhood Boys shot again at the Philly Boys during a Halloween party. In January, the groups engaged in a fistfight, and an innocent bystander was stabbed later that night by a member of the Neighborhood Boys. Two students were arrested after a drug raid in their dorm room Friday, where police found marijuana, a digital scale, packing materials and cellphones. A third student was arrested after police found cocaine and traces of marijuana in his dorm room. All three were alleged members of the Philly Boys and have been charged with "possession with intent to deliver marijuana and related offenses."

October 29, 2018

Textbook publishers moving from print sales to rental programs and digital subscription services may find long-term success, but not without reduced earnings “for the next couple of years,” Moody’s Investors Service predicted in a new report.

The Oct. 25 report, available to Moody’s subscribers, said that shifting to rental models would give publishers such as Cengage, McGraw-Hill Education and Pearson “a chance to generate and sustain earnings while they undergo a larger-shift toward digital-only learning materials." But Moody's suggests earnings may be lower and "less predictable" in the next 18 to 24 months.

October 29, 2018

Suzy Mink, vice president for external relations at Hollins University, is also a skilled carver of pumpkins -- and she uses that talent on behalf of Hollins, carving pumpkins that show campus buildings and also key people. At right is one of her carvings for this year, of Clark Hooper Baruch, past chair of the board and current chair of the development committee. Below is a carving of the Hollins seal.

October 29, 2018

University and scholarly groups across Australia are outraged by the revelation that a former education minister secretly vetoed more than 4 million Australian dollars' worth of humanities research grants (about $2.84 million) that had been peer reviewed and recommended for funding by the Australian Research Council, The Australian reported.

Academics were dismayed that the former education minister, Simon Birmingham, overruled the judgments made by scholars during a competitive peer-review process without offering any public announcement or rationale.

The president of the Australian Academy of the Humanities, Joy ​Damousi, said in a statement that political interference of this kind undermines confidence and trust in Australia's internationally respected research-funding system.

Birmingham defended his veto on Twitter: "I'm pretty sure most Australian taxpayers preferred their funding to be used for research other than spending $223,000 on projects like 'Post orientalist arts of the Strait of Gibraltar,'" he wrote.

October 29, 2018

Today on the Academic Minute, Minita Sanghvi, assistant professor in the management and business department at Skidmore College, explores whether women in politics face a wide swath of biases, at this time when many women are entering the political fray. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

October 26, 2018

Margaret Spellings is stepping down as president of the University of North Carolina System, according to numerous press reports in the state. Spellings, who was U.S. education secretary under President George W. Bush, will be leaving after less than three years in office. Spellings took the job saying she wanted to focus on issues such as improving graduation rates and using assessment to improve instruction. But she has found herself involved in numerous debates over social and political issues. The News & Observer reported that she has been negotiating her departure and plans to return to her home state of Texas.

The UNC board announced a special meeting Friday morning to discuss a personnel matter.


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